Thursday, March 20, 2008

Money, Money, Money

In Thailand, where some hard-working Thai people live on less than 200 US dollars a month, it's no surprise that people pray to the gods for money.

But it seems that taxi drivers have taken it to the extreme. Or maybe I just notice it more in the confined spaces during my daily commute back and forth to work.

Before I arrived in Bangkok almost five years ago, and back in the day when I studied about Theravada Buddhism in a World Religion class in college, I imagined the religious culture here as somehow being more "pure" and less affected by money.

I was wrong. And in the taxis of Bangkok you can find examples of every possible method of praying to the money gods and goddesses that exist. Some of my favorite objects and techniques includes resin Buddhas with torn money on the inside, Thai goddesses beckoning baht-toting customers with a hand gesture, money torn into pieces as an attempt to make it multiply, miniature versions of fish traps that symbolically trap the money inside, Thai baht folded into the shape of fish, and giant amulets chosen for their ability to make you get rich quick.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by all of this. But I am surprised that there are a few Buddhist monks involved in some of these money-making schemes themselves. There's even a "Money Monk" who is well-known for blessing taxi drivers by literally whacking them on the head with a wad of cash. I've included his picture above, as proof.

Another interesting practice by monks involves blessing a business, including a taxi, by drawing a sacred design in the shop, or in the case of the taxi, on the car ceiling. While the drawings are intended to protect the business and the business owner, taxi drivers love to point out how it brings them more customers and money.

Of course, it's not the first time that religion and money have mixed. Anyway, who am I to look down on people trying to survive out there, and make a baht or two. In fact, I could use some extra money myself. Maybe I need to look for "Money Monk", too.